It's Time for Augusta to Change
   by Selena Roberts

Along the journey to Amen Corner, a foursome of women come upon a group of gentlemen
who are searching the pine needles on an egg hunt for a lost Titleist.

The women have been patient. For several holes, they've watched the men lurch out of their cardigans,
hitting shots that soar with the hook of a walking cane. Finally, the ladies venture into the delicate area
of golf etiquette, politely asking, "Mind if we play through, fellas?"

Suddenly, a clammy William Johnson, known as Hootie, is jarred awake. Johnson, the chairman of Augusta
National Golf Club, reaches for a green jacket to cuddle, counts each Magnolia on the Lane and drifts back to
sleep. So far, he has managed to keep any symbol of women's progress in the darkness of his subconscious,
packed away with all the other fears hitched to change. Urged to enlist women at Augusta National, Johnson
remained as inflexible as a 2-iron recently, making his intentions clear. He wants to welcome women to his club
the old-fashioned way: he'll court them when he's ready, not the other way around.

Johnson's views might be dismissed as the ramblings of a codger stuck in the jukebox era had they not gone
unchallenged last weekend when the elite players in the world assembled for the British Open, a major held at
yet another club where male camaraderie is left unspoiled by female members.

Somewhere, Johnson must have been smiling when Tiger Woods shrugged off the controversy, saying there
was nothing he could do about club policy. Of course, Woods has the power to do plenty. With one whisper of
a boycott, biased bylaws would vanish.

But such a commotion might disrupt his groove. Winning is too important to let advocacy get in his way.
If Tiger Inc. had the human condition on his radar, he would not ignore Nike's history of treating its plant
workers like third-class mail.

In his current Nike commercial, Woods boldly declares that he will drop his company's equipment if that's what
it takes to win. "These are my terms," he says, staring into the lens. He looks and sounds like a man willing to
take a stand, but it's only acting. In an athlete culture that tends to inhibit maturity, Woods may be like many
20-something sports stars who classify women in two categories: chicks they would take home, and chicks they
would take home after a few drinks.

The Phil Mickelsons on the Tour are at different stages in life. They're older, married and have children. Woods
has a multicultural background, but he shouldn't be the only voice on equality. Others, like Mickelson, could
object to Augusta's men-only policy, which is so defiantly gripped by the club's leaders.

It's true that golf clubs have historically been the outposts for sexism and racism but Augusta National
isn't a quiet little gathering of 300 men; it's the home of the Masters. Every spring the club admirably resists
turning its grounds into a corporate carnival midway, leaving the azaleas uncluttered by logos.

Tradition is everything, but the club members gladly accept the modern benefits of being host to a public event
that allows everyone to peek into Augusta National's sacred space. Once the camera crews and paying
customers exit, the welcome mat is rolled up. Quickly, Spanky and the Gang hammer up the "No Girlz
Allowed" sign.

                                           

There is security in seclusion, making Johnson less of a preservationist and more of a survivalist. Maybe it's
freeing to tell raunchy jokes without fear of the High-Heel Police, but the exclusion of strong women also helps
reduce the threat to powerful men. To the men of Augusta, it's enough to deal with women on the outside, but
what if the club's lobby begins to look as if Laura Ashley lives in it? And, more important, what if
club-networking women get ahead of club-schmoozing men?

These fears are more perceived than real. Under pressure from a court ruling in 1988, the New York Athletic
Club voted to accept women. Today, there are 700 women among the 8,600 members and only one major
change: men no longer swim naked in the lap pool.

"I think everyone has seen that women didn't wreck anything," said Amy Walton, the director of marketing for
the club. "To see women in the halls now, it's an everyday thing."

Johnson may not buy it, but evolution can be enlightening. It may be years from now, but one day a foursome of
women will come cruising down a fairway at Augusta. And up ahead, a secure bunch of gentlemen will look
behind themselves, note the women's progress, and politely ask, "Ladies, would you like to play through?"

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